When was the last time you heard someone's journey to the C-Suite and left with information you could leverage for yourself or share with others? Kurt Nielsen's story is one to sit with because this authentic conversation drops gems in every step of his journey from the lab to CEO.
First, I asked Kurt to share a bit about his journey - from getting his PhD in Chemistry, working in a startup, moving up the ranks in generic pharmaceuticals, and rising into the C-Suite (Chief Operating Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Executive Officer). He explains that each role had vastly different spheres of management and leadership with all those different roles. And currently, he's just passed his one-year mark as an entrepreneur!
With all of this experience under his belt, I wanted to explore with him - what has the "evolution of STEM Leadership" looked like? Knowing that career paths in the past seem narrow, we discuss, in particular, the limited decision to stay, or leave academia and go into "industry", then move up the organizational hierarchy in linear order.
From Kurt’s experience, he remembers within the company there were two paths, typically called "ladders" that you could move up - technical or managerial. Unfortunately, these weren't really differentiating options given each "ladder" still increased your responsibility, scope of work, and increased engagement with people. But we acknowledge dealing with people is really the hard part.
We also mention in the video, that currently there are so many more opportunities that have opened up for the STEM professional that they can "cut their own paths."
As we settled into our conversation, I asked Kurt to share his experience transitioning to his first role outside of the lab. "It was thrilling!", he says. Hired in a startup biotech in a dual role as a research scientist and group leader for an analytical chemistry department, he comments that there was no playbook on leadership and that you needed to manage the needs of your people to execute their work, as well as, inspire them.
Kurt and I go into many more thoughts on STEM Leadership - including a challenging moment as a leader and his transition into becoming a CEO.
Check out the video here to hear more experiences and gain more insights!
But if you only have a few minutes, feel free to scroll through the video's timestamps:
Section 1: Who is Kurt Nielsen?
Section 2: STEM Leadership in the Past
Section 3: Dealing with & Leading people
Section 4: Transitioning out of academia
Section 5: Becoming a CEO
Section 6: Today's leadership challenges
Section 7: What do future leaders need?